After winning his fourth national title in seven years at Alabama – and his fifth overall – Nick Saban is officially one of the greatest coaches, if not the greatest coach, in college football history.
Saban, 64, has been able to, in the words of Brian Jones, “plug and play” during his time in Tuscaloosa, finding the exact recruits to fill the exact roles he needs.
How has he been able to do this?
“Well, you’re right: He doesn’t recruit; he selects,” former Clemson coach and current ACC Network analyst Tommy Bowden said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “He selects who he wants there. It is a lot easier. But the pressure there is tremendous. I was born in Alabama and coached at Alabama and Auburn. The pressure is tremendous. I think with what he’s done, you can very easily use his name in the same breath of a Bear Bryant, Joe Paterno, Pop Warner, Alonzo Stagg. I think that’s a name that belongs right in there with them because of what he has accomplished at a place with tremendously high expectations and pressure.”
Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, and the game has changed tremendously in that short amount of time. From new-age coaches to up-tempo offenses, the parity in college football has never been greater.
Saban, however, just keeps adjusting and just keeps winning.
“In order to make money, you got to spend money, and nobody spends it better than the SEC and Alabama,” Bowden said. “One of the things I learned about coaching that conference and other conferences (is that) a lot of schools, a lot of university presidents, a lot of administrations, want to play in the SEC on Saturday and be in Harvard Monday through Friday – and you can’t do that. The most important person on campus in this particular conference – and at Alabama, in particular – is not the president; it’s the head football coach. I think the administration understands that, and they pay the guy accordingly. They give him everything he wants, and consequently, he wins. So I think in schools like that, the most important thing that helps you maintain and sustain success at that level (is) you’re wiling to spend the money, and you understand who the boss is.”
Dabo Swinney, meanwhile, brought Clemson to within a play or two of its first national championship since 1981. Clemson is one of just two programs, along with Alabama, to have won 10+ games in each of the last five years and is an early favorite to return to the playoff next season.
“He’s taken a good job and made it better,” said Bowden, who coached Clemson from 1999 to 2008. “One of the reasons the job attracted me is I thought it had an SEC environment but played int he ACC. He’s put it all together. They’re here to stay. I think there’s no doubt about it.”